Overeating, Alcohol Abuse, Depression Intertwined In Young Women

On TV, Sex and the City makes regular Cosmo-drinking sessions seem like a glamorous, harmless pastime. In reality, though, excessive alcohol use can relate to overeating and depression in young women, according to the results of a new study.

“Anyone who has been touched by depression, obesity or alcoholism knows that these disorders on their own can be devastating. When they’re combined, these disorders become more costly, more difficult to treat and more impairing,” said Carolyn McCarty, Ph.D., lead study author and a research associate professor at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

In the study in the September/October issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, the researchers surveyed 393 men and 383 women at ages 24, 27 and 30 about their weight, alcohol use and depression symptoms within the last year.

“When you look across time, alcohol use and obesity predicted later depression. The big picture here is that these disorders, though they’re different in manifestation and symptoms, appear to be related for some groups of women.” McCarty said.

The researchers found that women who had alcohol use disorders at age 24 were more than three times as likely to be obese at age 27, compared to women who did not.

In addition, women who were obese at age 27 were more than twice as likely to be depressed at age 30, and women who were depressed at age 27 had an increased risk of alcohol disorders at age 30. For young men, the disorders did not appear to have similar connections over time.

“From a clinical or health care provider perspective, when you think about what to do about one of these problems, you have to think about what to do about the other,” said Gregory Simon, M.D., a psychiatrist and researcher at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle. “Being overweight is the norm among people who are depressed, so when helping people with depression, you’ve got to think about how their weight is related.” Simon had no affiliation with the study.

Although she noted more research is necessary to understand why these disorders are more related in women, McCarty suggested that women might be more likely to ruminate, or “chew” on problems in response to stress, which could increase the likelihood of developing depression, eating problems and substance abuse. Different biological pathways in the brain might also play a role.

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